St Barnabas and St Michael’s 24th February 2013
Reading – 1 Samuel 2:1-10
What is it that gives you delight?
Maybe it’s your football team scoring a dramatic last-minute winner.
Maybe it’s walking along a sunset beach with your beloved.
Maybe it’s hearing a piece of music that deeply touches your heart.
Maybe it’s getting that job you’ve always wanted.
There are many things in life that give us delight. But the question I want to ask this morning is this: do you delight in the Lord?
At the moment we’re in the season of Lent. It’s a serious time of year for prayer, for Bible-reading, for self-examination. But, frankly, if walking with the Lord is a bit of a burden, if knowing and serving Him is a bit of a chore, then I’m not sure that any of these things will do us much good. You see, the Lord isn’t looking for people who serve Him only out of duty. He is looking for people who delight in Him, people whose greatest pleasure is knowing and being known by God. So let me ask again: do you delight in the Lord?
My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. That was the testimony of Hannah all those years ago. She had seen the Lord work in her life. Her faith had been put to the test and not found wanting. And now she delighted in the way the Lord had come and rescued her. I wonder, what is your story this morning?
But let’s be clear, Hannah’s life wasn’t always delightful. Her story starts in the previous chapter where we learn that she was married to man called Elkanah. Now in some ways it was a happy marriage. We read in verses 3-6 that whenever they went up to Shiloh to offer sacrifices and eat in the presence of the Lord Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion because he loved her. In an age where women were treated as possessions like sheep or cattle this is important. It shows Elkanah and Hannah had a very special relationship.
But there were just a couple of problems that spoiled their happiness. First of all, Elkanah had another wife, called Peninnah. And although the Old Testament doesn’t comment much on a man having two wives, there is no story where, if I might put it this way, three goes into one successfully.
This was certainly the case here. You see, the second problem Hannah faced was the simple truth Peninnah was the one with the children and didn’t she like to remind Hannah of that fact! Hannah had to endure years of mocking and goading at her hands. Now we can be all spiritual and say that if Hannah hadn’t put up with all this provocation she wouldn’t have become this great woman of prayer we read about today, but let’s not gloss over the fact – Hannah was a woman who knew misery. The role society demanded of her at that time – to bear children – had been denied. She was in the world’s eyes the lowest of the low.
So where could she find help? It would be good to report that when she went up to the house of the Lord at Shiloh she found a sympathetic ear and a ready source of comfort. But the religious life of Israel at that time was at an all-time low. Eli clearly had not come across anyone praying with deep, heartfelt fervour recently. His first instinct was to dismiss Hannah as yet another drunk who had wandered into the sanctuary. It took all Hannah’s powers of persuasion to convince him that she was serious, that all she was doing was pouring out her soul to the Lord.
So in the first chapter of Samuel the picture of Hannah that we find is from a human point of view is not a delightful one. She is married, but only as one of two wives belonging to Elkanah. She is mocked by Peninnah because she cannot bear children. She is misunderstood by Eli because he does not understand her prayers. And yet what comes across most clearly is Hannah’s unshakeable trust in the Lord. Her response to misfortune is to pray harder, and not only that but also to promise to dedicate her hoped-for child to the Lord. Would we, if we were in a similar position, display such faith? I for one am not sure that I would. But Hannah persisted in her faith despite all the obstacles, and right at the end of the chapter comes that lovely phrase the Lord remembered her.
This doesn’t mean that up until that point the Lord has forgotten her, or He had not been working in her life. But in His time, according to His purposes, He acted. Life came into being. His promises were fulfilled. A child was born.
You have to understand all this if you are going to make sense of Hannah’s song of deliverance in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.
Now if you look at the beginning of verse 1 and the end of verse 10, you will see that they both contain the word “horn” which the footnotes tell you is a symbol for strength. In other words, Hannah here is testifying that through every season of life the Lord has been her rock, her stay, her strength.
So let’s look at her song in more detail, which we can break down into three parts:
First of all, we have verses 1-3 are about delight in the Lord’s deliverance
Then, verses 4-7 which are about have disaster for the proud
And verses 8-10 which are about destiny for all.
In verse 1, we have Hannah’s reflection on her own experience: My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. Now the sudden mention of the word “enemies” is one reason why some scholars suspect this song might have been written long after the original events. After all, there has been no obvious reference to enemies in chapter 1.
But let’s not forget what Hannah had to put up with. We are told in 1:6 that the Lord had closed her womb. In an age where many gods were worshipped, it doesn’t take too imagination to see how Hannah could so easily had been mocked for believing in a God who seemed to deny her the desires of her heart. Was the God that she prayed to so fervently a real god? And even if He was real, was He powerful enough to save her? Hannah’s answer here is an emphatic “Yes”. She could delight in the Lord’s deliverance.
But there’s more. Because Hannah could look at the way the Lord had acted in her life and draw out some general conclusions about the God she worshipped. What the Lord did for Hannah was not some isolated event, but only a small demonstration of His constant and consistent nature, to act and to save.
So in verses 2 and 3, she spells out the lessons she has learnt about the Lord’s nature. Verse 2: There is no-one holy like the Lord; there is no-one besides you; there is no rock like our God. You see, the God Hannah worshipped was not just another Baal or Ashtoreth who might or might not intervene if the right offerings were worshipped. Her God was the one true God, who could have no rival. He acted consistently in accordance with His revealed nature. That is why Hannah could depend on Him as her rock, her strength, her refuge. That is why she delighted in His deliverance.
Hannah realised, however, that she could not approach the Lord with anything other than due humility. As she looked back on the years of misery and mocking, she could see how He had tested her and weighed the motives of her heart. That’s why even as she delighted in the Lord Hannah could see there was no place for proud words or arrogant boasting: For the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. For when you put your trust and strength in the all-knowing, all-powerful Lord of heaven and earth, you cannot for a moment put your trust in your own achievements or claim any merit of your own. The God who made heaven and earth knows your heart, and you ignore this simple fact at your peril.
And yet there is something deep within our human nature which means we fail to learn this lesson. What is it that links the warrior with his bow, the well-fed man and the woman with many sons in verses 4 and 5? Quite simply that they look to their own resources and delight in their own achievements. They have resisted the message that all good things comes from the Lord and forgotten the simple truth we find in verse 6 that tells us: the Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. They have in effect declared independence from God and as Hannah’s song makes clear the results can only be disastrous.
And should we want any proof of what she is saying, we only have to look at the story of Eli’s sons which comes immediately afterwards. It wasn’t that Eli’s sons weren’t religious. Indeed they assiduously attended every sacrifice and festival. But unlike Hannah they had no regard for the Lord as verse 12 puts it. They did not look to the Lord to provide but rather fattened themselves on the offerings the worshippers brought to Shiloh. Not even a prophecy from an unknown man of God, at the end of chapter 2, could change their heart, even one that ends with a warning that the descendants of Eli will end up begging for food. Are you this morning confident in your own achievements? If you are, then you ignore the warnings of these verses, that there is disaster for the proud, and all who boast in their own strength.
Yet, if we recognise our need of God, if we confess our total dependence on Him, then the song of Hannah contains some supremely good news, and that is where the focus of her message lies. Verse 8: He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour.
Now I know there is a lot of debate about this word poor. I recently heard the vicar of a large church in London claim that the use of the term poor has nothing to do with level of income or with material prosperity, but rather it refers to that state of dependence upon the Lord, irrespective of wealth or status or class. Of course to a certain extent that is true. God looks at the heart, not at how much or how little you happen to own or to earn.
But if this morning you are here as someone who hasn’t got very much, if it seems life has dealt you a rough hand recently, don’t let these kind of arguments detract from a simple truth, that God is there for you. So often as a church we’ve given the impression that God is really only interested in people who can read, or can give a certain amount, or have the right background, and nothing could be further from the truth. When you’re down in the dust or squatting on the ash heap, remember this – God is only a prayer away. He can lift you, He can give you a place of blessing. All you need to do is to believe and to ask, and like Hannah you will find that at just the right time the Lord will remember you and the Lord will act.
On the other hand, if this morning your delight is actually more in your bank balance, or your job, or your material comforts, then you need to take seriously the warning in the next verse: It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. It might not be that our opposition is blatant like that of Eli’s sons. It might simply be that our circumstances blind us to our utter need of God. But either way, we need to be aware that when God made the world, He did not just set up a created order, he also set up a moral order where a right dependence on Him will be rewarded, and a sinful independence will be punished.
This is where Hannah’s prediction of the coming king fits in. Because the anointed king will come as the agent of God over His people and the proper response will be to put faith and trust in that king. Now from an Old Testament perspective it isn’t fully clear how the announcement the Lord will judge the ends of the earth is linked to the prophecy that He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. Who is this king Hannah is talking about? Is it David? Is it Solomon? No, in the end the answer of course is Jesus to whom God the Father has given authority to judge and before whom one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. That is the destiny for all, and one we need to take seriously.
So today let us use the song of Hannah to reflect on our own relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Do we delight in the Lord’s deliverance and rejoice all He has done for us? Or do we need to heed the warning in this passage that there is disaster for the proud? Let’s reflect on the destiny that awaits us all. And let us learn to delight in the blessings that the Lord gives us so that others too find their joy in Him.